A groundbreaking study published online in the journal Injury Prevention in April 2020 called attention to the risks posed to fellow travelers and pedestrians by various modes of transport, different road types and settings, and gender. The researchers found that heavy vehicles, which are mostly driven by men, were responsible for the majority of traffic fatalities in England, and as such, women drivers posed less risk to the public than their male counterparts.
Research in road safety analysis has so far concentrated on the risk faced by individuals in using a given mode of transport. However, almost all policymakers agree that it is more important to limit social behavior that impacts the safety of others compared to that which impacts the safety of the doer alone. In this light, the current study, headed by lead researcher Dr. Rachel Aldred, shifts the focus to the risks posed by a driver to other road users (ORUs).
Researchers based their study on official data for England - Road Traffic statistics, National Travel Survey Data, police injury statistics (Stats19), and population/gender figures from the Office for National Statistics, with a data set of 14,425 deaths comprising 69% of all traffic fatalities in a ten-year gap (2005-15)
The study's unique perspective analyzed risks posed by six vehicular transport modes - bicycles, vans, taxis, cars, motorbikes, buses, and lorries in fatalities and injury per billion vehicle kilometers traveled. Roads were classified as major or minor in urban and rural settings. It also compared the varying risk posed by men versus women.
Cars most dangerous?
The results at first glance showed that two-thirds of fatal accidents to ORUs were caused by cars and taxis. Lorries took second place at 16.5% of total ORU deaths. However, when analyzed with respect to the number of deaths per billion kilometers traveled, other vehicles pose a still greater risk to ORUs.
One in five to one in six deaths to ORUs (17 and 19 deaths per billion kilometers driven) were caused by buses and lorries, with the number of deaths per km being five times higher than for cars (3.3 deaths to ORUs per billion km driven). Buses on major urban roads are twice as dangerous to ORUs as on smaller roads, at 25 and 13 deaths per billion km, respectively.
At 7.6 deaths to ORUs per billion km driven, motorbikes were responsible for 2.5 more deaths per km driven than cars and vans (3% of all deaths per km driven.) Moreover, they are three times as dangerous on major urban roads compared to small city roads, at 11.5 and 4 deaths per billion km, respectively.
Bicycles were found to pose the lowest risk to road users, constituting only one death per billion km. However, they caused almost five times more deaths in ORUs on major rural roads, more than either cars or vans.
Travel on major roads is almost always much more dangerous for the other road user compared to travel on minor roads, except in the case of lorries. Again, when car and bus occupancy per kilometer is considered, the risk posed by either to ORUs per person kilometer becomes comparable. This suggests that the danger of each mode of transport to ORUs is related to speed in particular. Lorries are vehicles that cause deadly collisions at low speeds and therefore cause relatively unchanged ORU fatalities across all road types.
A comparison of risk by driver gender showed that five out of the six vehicle types studied were significantly more dangerous when driven by men rather than women. The risk posed by cars and vans per km was double when driven by men than women, four times higher for lorries, and more than ten times higher for motorcycles. This prompted the researchers to suggest measures for gender equity in road transport jobs as a move to reduce risks.
The study also brought to light the high number of pedestrian fatalities in motorcycle-related accidents (135 out of 173 deaths during the study period) and suggests a shift from motorcycling to cycling as a measure to reduce risks to other road users.
What does the study mean?
The study shows that cycling is the single mode of transport-related to the least risk to ORUs. This is of the highest significance when it comes to encouraging a shift from motorbike riding to cycling since motorcyclists are a disproportionate danger not only to ORUs but to themselves.
Researchers thus contrast the traditional view of motorcyclists as vulnerable road users with the high risk they posed to ORUs, as shown in the study, and urged measures to acknowledge and reduce risks associated with the popular mode of transport. They suggest, "Authorities should consider measures to reduce motorcycling, especially among men, and to deter motorcycling where it may otherwise be an unintended consequence of policy (for instance, of road pricing)."
Dr. Rachel Aldred further pointed out in a linked podcast that most companies in the commercial transport sector, especially for lorries, tend to hire males. Among these "most dangerous" vehicles, 95% are driven by men, and as such, these pose a much higher risk to other road users compared to lorries driven by women.
The study also calls for better data on the risk to ORUs posed by heavy vehicles to arrive at proper preventive measures. Finally, since the majority of the most dangerous vehicles studied are predominantly driven by men, implementing more significant gender equity in the road transport sector is likely to decrease risks to other road users posed by male drivers, especially for lorries, she added.
The study concludes by urging policymakers to create equal opportunities for men and women in the road transport sector in view of the co-benefits to other road users, citing a "greater likelihood that other road users will be killed if men rather than women are driving or riding."
- Aldred, R., et al. (2020). How does mode of travel affect risks posed to other road users? An analysis of English road fatality data, incorporating gender and road type. Injury Prevention. Epub ahead of print April 6, 2020. doi:10.1136/injuryprev-2019-043534.